Filippo Pellini, Milan-based graphic and type designer.

Hello Filippo how are you?

Everything’s fine, thanks. It’s a sunny day in Milan and today I’m working at home.

Can you introduce yourself?

I’m an Italian freelance graphic and type designer. I currently live and work in Milan, my hometown, where I came back soon after graduating from the Art Direction Master of ECAL, the art and design school of Lausanne.

In the last weeks I’ve been busy with an interesting type design project commissioned by a graphic design studio here in Milan. I can’t give you too many details, but it’s about a corporate typeface. I surely prefer to work on type design projects for real brands and needs instead of designing on personal inspiration. I found it less demanding and stimulating. At the same time I’m also collaborating with a couple of independent magazines. It’s a more occasional duty, but it’s a good occasion to keep on doing editorial design, that I’ve always enjoyed.

Where does your interest in graphic and type design come from?

I have always been in touch with architecture and design, since my father is an architect as well as my uncle and my grandfather. Apart from that, I would say that for me graphic design has been a kind of bet. I had never tried to do graphic design before, but when I finished the high school and I had to choose for a university program I had the sensation that it could be something suitable to me. I had been always fascinated by graffiti, comics and visual expressions, then I decided to attempt. Fortunately I discovered that I like it!

The decision to focus mainly on type design has been a bit more conscious. During my bachelor in communication design at Politecnico di Milano I attended a type design course. There I designed my first typeface that was obviously very rough and badly drawn. Luckily the course was very elementary and my evaluation was high. Despite the level of teaching, it was one of the courses that I enjoyed the most in the whole bachelor, so I decided to apply for ECAL with the desire of learning real type design.

Who are your mentors?

During my formation I met a lot of good professors, but if I have to choose I would say François Rappo and Ian Party. Their design processes and approaches are completely different, one is almost the opposite of the other, but bouncing a bit between the two extremes I can say I found my own way. From both I learned important concepts, instruments and methods.

Type design is a complex discipline that lives on the border between craft, design and technical skills. Thanks to them I can now look at type design from all these different points of view, from the artisan one to the businessman one. I’m particularly thankful to Ian for tutoring me during my second year, following my diploma project.

Then it would be unfair not to mention Philippe Egger, director of Master, and Kai Bernau, who came to ECAL several times to hold extremely instructive workshops. They had an important role in my professional formation too.

Claudia Shouter is now available on Ecal Typefaces. What do you think about this platform?

I think it’s a great idea. Students, at the end of their studies, need a showcase to enter the professional world. At the same time the school, showing and selling the best projects of its pupils, gains in terms of fame and reputation. Ecal Typefaces responds to both students and school needs and in some way everybody wins. Even graphic designers that now can buy fresh and professional fonts for an affordable price.

Do you plan to sold the Alberto&Claudia typefaces as a family?

I would like to extend Alberto Editor and Claudia Shouter in real families, with several weights and matching italics, but as two different projects. They have many features that allow them to live together and so far they have to, because one compensate for the lacks of the other and vice versa.

If I try to imagine a broader system I think to Alberto and Claudia as two touching but independent worlds. In any case it’s not something I’ve planned to do in the near future. I have other thoughts and projects in my mind now.

Can you tell us more about the Claudia Shouter typeface design?

Initially Claudia Shouter was thought simply as a wider black version of Claudia Insider. While developing the lowercase I soon realized it was becoming something different. Differently from Claudia Insider, which is thought to be rather neutral and cold, Claudia Shouter has a clearly stronger personality. It has more tension in the single letterforms and a more dynamic rhythm when composed in words and sentences.

Basically they have two different purposes, and these are the main differences. Claudia Insider is meant to be used in long texts, whereas Claudia Shouter is evidently a display font. I would say that my main references while designing it were Antique Olive Nord and Gill Sans UltraBold. I was looking for something less quirky but with the same impact and vitality.

And the Alberto Editor typeface design?

The design process of Alberto Editor has been a little bit more articulated. Everything started with a personal research about Alberto Tallone, an Italian typographer who lived in Paris and Turin in first half of the XXth Century. He designed a typeface called Tallone that still exist only in the metal version. It is still used by Enrico Tallone, son of Alberto, for handset publications.

Initially I just tried to replicate it in a digital version, purely as drawing exercise, then I told myself: «let’s transform it in something contemporary and original». Tallone in fact is a text face, based on transitional model, very elegant and sophisticated, while I wanted something good for display use. I began just augmenting the contrast but later other references influenced the process, for example the work of Klim Type Foundry and Commercial Type, so Alberto moved towards something new and different from both the historical model and the contemporary references.

This idea of combining an historical model and modern references throughout my personal sensibility is really a constant peculiarity of my design process, at least when I’m not designing for a client but for personal interest. Another example is Claudia Insider, which started as reinterpretation of Eurostile by Aldo Novarese as you can see in the squarish curves. Now of course it’s very different and the relationship between the first model and the final result is not so direct.

When I design for myself I rarely have an exact image of the typeface I would like to have in the end. It is a sort of exploration or experimentation that goes through many mixed influences and sometimes through the interpolation of different typefaces and tests. The method usually becomes more structured in a second phase when, out of my experiments, I find a mood or a taste that I like. In that moment I define my precise goals and the real design process starts. Obviously designing for clients is different, because the brief is already given from the beginning.

Are there any projects or experiences that you have done and that you enjoyed more than others?

Probably the experience I enjoyed most in the last year is my role as assistant at Politecnico. I helped Marta Bernstein to hold a typographic course for the second year of the design bachelor. It wasn’t about designing typefaces, but rather about how to use them. Students from the first year arrived already with an idea about how design process work, but completely unable to handle the typographic instrument. Our main problem was to train their eyes in the understanding of tensions and the weights on the page, not an easy task. Of course, we also gave lessons about calligraphy and history of typography.

What I particularly liked was the possibility of a human relationship with the students, that are more than container we have to fill with notions. To teach obliges you to give yourself the reasons why you design in a certain way, or why you take specific choices. In some way you have to call your own method into question, because it will be verified by the students themselves. In the end it has been a great occasion also for me and my professional growth.

A designer that you admire?

This is always a difficult question to answer. Limiting the choice to the designers still in activity I particularly like the work of Mirko Borsche, Claudia Basel and Experimental Jetset. Of course, I could say many other names, but the common denominator of these designers is the ability of using contemporary trends without being just fashionable but doing real good graphic design. It’s not so easy!

Regarding type design panorama I admire the work of Swiss Typefaces, Commercial Type and Optimo. I think all of them know how to design typefaces with strong personality and originality without looking for eccentric effects or solutions.

Which books are on your bedside table?

I have a lot of books on my beside table… at least fifteen titles. It’s a long queue that waits to be read. Right now I’m reading two books. The first one is The Art of Color by Johannes Itten, a real classic. Since I’m a type designer I usually reason just in terms of full or empty forms. As graphic designer I felt to have a gap about what colors really are and how to correctly use them. The other book is Laudato si’, the last encyclical of Pope Francis.

The last word…

In the last years Italian graphic design scenes seems to become more aware of the possibilities offered by type design and typography. The work of LeftLoft, Think Work Observe, Tankboys and many other studios shows this evolution. At the same time many young designers leave Italy to study in Switzerland, Netherlands and England and to get more experience in the field. Now that I’m back in my homeland I hope to help this growing process.

Thanks LIGATURE. for being interested in my work and opinions!



Interview : Dennis Moya & Tiffany Bähler — 07.15

Images ©Filippo Pellini.

Type Design